ISLAMABAD: US intelligence agency Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is seeking the extradition of a US national Talha Haroon, currently imprisoned in Adiala Jail, located in the outskirts of Pakistan’s garrison town of Rawalpindi. The FBI claims that Talha Haroon is an activist of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), or Daesh, who was plotting to attack New York city’s famous Times Square and Subway system in 2016. Haroon Rashid, the father of Talha Haroon, rejects the accusation, calling it a conspiracy against his son.
“Pakistani security officials forcibly entered my house in Quetta, Baluchistan. They searched every nook and corner but could not find anything. After they left I realized that they took my son Talha Haroon with them,” said Haroon Rashid, a Quetta-based businessman, while exclusively sharing the details of the alleged abduction of his son on August 13, 2016.
Haroon Rashid, 46, is a well-built man with a full grown beard. Wearing a Sindhi cap on his head and attired in a Shalwar Qameez, Rashid was visibly upset while speaking to this scribe. Sitting next to him was his younger son, Muhammad Yousaf Haroon, another US citizen who has especially flown from Denver, Colorado to Pakistan to try to meet his brother.
Haroon Rashid has five children and two wives, one American and the other Pakistani. In 2002, he and his family faced terrorism charges while living in Colorado, Denver. In November 2006, after a legal battle, the charges against him were dropped. During the proceedings, he was deported to Pakistan while his family stayed back. Since then, he has not returned to the US. A little more than a decade after his own acquittal, Haroon Rashid is facing a similar situation. The US government wants Talha extradited immediately.
According to Haroon Rashid, his son Talha Haroon was a high school student in Denver until 2014. On August 15, 2014, Talha moved to Quetta, the provincial capital of Pakistan’s Bulochistan province, with his mother. Later, his mother and siblings returned to the US but Talha stayed in Pakistan. Haroon wanted to enroll him in a seminary (Madrassa) in Karachi but could not do so due to what he claims were family issues. In August 2016, according to Haroon, Talha was picked up from his home in Quetta.
The documents of the US Department of Justice, shared with the Interior Ministry, a copy of which also available to this correspondent reveal that Talha Haroon is wanted by the US government on five different counts:
1)-Conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.
2)-Conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries.
3)-Conspiracy to bomb a place of public use and public transportation system.
4)-Conspiracy to provide material support or resources to terrorists and
5)-Conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
The documents also include an affidavit of Oscar M. Gifford, a Special Agent, Air Force Office of Special Investigations Task Force Officer with the FBI. The affidavit is part of the proceedings in a southern district court of New York, where a case is underway against Talha Haroon on the above-mentioned counts
In his statement Mr.Oscar M. Gifford refers to an encrypted electronic communications between Haroon and an undercover law enforcement officer (whose real name is withheld and is mentioned as “UC”) and between another man whose codename is mentioned as CC-1, supported ISIL and were planning to carry out coordinated terrorists attacks for and in the name of ISIL in New York City. The FBI Special Agent claims that Haroon and CC-1 had identified New York City’s subway system (the NYC Subway System), Times Square and particular concert venues, among other locations, as primary targets of the attacks.
The FBI agent in his statement further claims that “In May 2016, Haroon and CC-1 took steps in preparation for executing the planned attacks. CC-1, who was located in a country outside the United States, purchased bomb-making materials, shipped them to the UC in the United States, and helped to secure a cabin within driving distance of New York City to use as a base for building the bombs and staging the planned attacks. Based on communications with the UC, Haroon, a United States citizen residing in Pakistan, traveled within Pakistan in an effort to meet with an explosives expert in furtherance of the plot, repeatedly expressed his desire and intent to participate in the attacks, and took steps to renew his Pakistani visa to enable him to travel to the US for purposes of carrying out the attacks.”
According to the FBI special agent, Talha Haroon was linked to a man named Akhi (Akhi is an Arabic language word which means brother), who is a leader of the ISIL. No name of the ISIL leader has been shared in the documents shared with Pakistan.
Between Feb 1993 and July 2016, there have been 113 failed or foiled plots directed against US homeland, according to data made available in the book Countering Terrorism authored by terrorism experts Martha Crenshaw and Gary LaFree. If the FBI’s accusation on Talha being a plotter of an attack in New York city is correct, this would make the plot the 114th failed or foiled plot directed against US homeland.
The circumstances reflect that Talha Haroon was taken into custody after the US government approached Pakistani officials. After being detained, the family of Talha Haroon remained unaware of his whereabouts until November 2016 when he was first produced before Captain (retired) Abdul Sattar Isani Additional Deputy Commissioner General (ADCG), Islamabad. Isani first sought his (Talha Haroon’s) willingness for extradition to the US but when Talha Haroon informed him that he was badly tortured and not in touch with his family, the retired captain who is now discharging his duties as a civil servant allowed the young boy to contact his family.
“I received the call of my son in November and I was happy that at least he is alive. Talha told me that he was badly tortured and even waterboarded during his illegal detention,” according to Haroon Rashid, the father of Talha, shared this in his painful voice. He also wondered that while his son was taken into custody from Quetta, why he was produced before a magistrate in Islamabad?
He shared that soon after knowing about his son’s detention in Islamabad he moved to the city with his family. Now he says he is fighting his son’s case in Islamabad High Court as he does not want his son handed over to the US authorities.
A document of the Interior Ministry dated March 14, 2017, also available to the scribe reveals that the Interior Ministry had approved the extradition of Talha Haroon to the US authorities in light of an inquiry of ADCG, Captain Abdul Sattar Isani. The Interior Ministry argues in the document that Talha Haroon is correctly wanted by the US authorities.
In another letter on the same date, the FBI’s Pakistani counterpart agency, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), was asked by the Interior Ministry “…to take custody of Talha Haroon from Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi to hand him over to US authorities under intimation to this (Interior Ministry).”
In the said document it is not mentioned that who brought Talha Haroon to Rawalpindi and how the Interior Ministry came to know about his presence in Rawalpindi jail. Informed sources tell this scribe that US authorities also visited Talha Haroon in Rawalpindi jail on May 3, which was almost two weeks back. It is yet not clear what transpired between them in the said meeting.
Talha Haroon’s brother Muhammad Yousaf Haroon, who lives in Denver, is visiting Pakistan. The father claims that Talha was coincidently talking to his brother Yousaf via Skype on the fateful night when his brother was taken into custody from Quetta, making him a witness to the incident as well. Yousuf Haroon told this correspondent that almost a month before the incident, officers from the FBI visited him at his home in Denver, US, asking questions about Talha when he last visited him in Pakistan. Yousaf is a student of computer science at a college in Denver.
Haroon Rashid, the father, has now hired the services of Mr. Tariq Asad, a lawyer who is also President of the Lal Masjid Foundation and often represents missing persons, those affiliated with the Taliban and the Lal Masjid. “I have hired him as I have no money. They help me and I welcome it,” said Haroon Rashid.
“I am living in poverty here in Islamabad because of my son’s case. I don’t want to see my son going through the same ordeal which I went through ten years ago. My son is innocent,” pleads Haroon Rashid as legal wrangling between him and the Pakistani government’s Interior Ministry goes on at Islamabad High Court.
This case interestingly coincides with President Donald Trump’s recent firing of the Director FBI, James Comey. Whether the firing of the FBI chief will effect FBI’s pursuit of the extradition remains to be seen, the current back-and-forth between the US and Pakistani governments again brings to the surface the vastly complex US-Pakistan relationship. Asfandyar Mir, a researcher on political violence and Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Chicago, noted that the case shows that, “The US government continues to deeply rely on the Pakistani state for realizing its counterterrorism goals.” Mir added that “If there is any truth to the claims of the FBI, the case suggests that like Al-Qaeda and Pakistan Taliban, ISIS too sees Pakistan as a place to incubate its plots against the US homeland. This should greatly worry the Pakistani government.”
Azaz Syed is an Islamabad based investigative journalist and author of , “The Secrets of Pakistan’s War on Al-Qaeda,”. He is cutrently working with Geo News and The News. He often writes for IBC. He can be reached by twitter @AzazSyed Email: firstname.lastname@example.org